Spring Flower Blooms at Riveredge | April 12, 2021

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what flowers she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

In Bloom

Skunk Cabbage
Pasque Flower
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Spring Cress
Penn Sedge
Common Blue Violet
Dutchman’s Breeches
Swamp Buttercup
Cut Leaved  Toothwort
Hairy Wood Rush
Marsh Marigold

Flower Buds Present

Prairie Smoke
Jacob’s Ladder

Sprouts/Leaves Present

Golden Alexander
Heart Leaved Golden Alexander
Rattlesnake Master
Wild Bergamot
Nodding Wild Onion
White Trout Lily
Wild Geranium
Beach Wormwood
Wild Ginger
Shooting  Stars
Red Trillium
Common Valerian

Bug o’the Week – Mourning Cloak Revisited

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady walked in the woods, recently, on an unseasonably warm, spring day, accompanied by Mourning Cloak and Eastern Comma butterflies (so cool to look down on the trail and see the shadows of butterflies!).  No, they had not telescoped their caterpillar and chrysalis stages into the leafless period after the Equinox – these are species that overwinter as adults and are the first to fly into the spring sunlight.  This is a rewrite of an episode from March of 2009 – new words, new pictures.

Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), in the brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae, are large and strikingly-patterned butterflies whose name comes from the dark cloak worn by someone who is bereaved.  According to Wikipedia, Grand Surprise and White Petticoat are older names for the adults, and the caterpillars are sometimes called Spiny elm caterpillars.  They are the state butterfly of Montana (Wisconsin doesn’t have a state butterfly, but we do celebrate the honeybee).

The first Mourning Cloak of the season is a welcome harbinger of spring in North America, the UK, Europe, and parts of Asia; they range as far north as the Arctic Circle, and they’re found (sporadically) in northern South America.

Mourning Cloaks live longer than most butterflies – 10 months or more – and a complicated life story it is!  Newly-minted adults emerge around the summer solstice, forage for a while, and then aestivate (suspend all activity) until early fall.  It’s speculated that this reduces both predation and wear-and-tear.  After a fall feeding period, they select a sheltered spot (a hibernaculum) to overwinter in.  Even though they’re protected, getting frozen is a given, but glycerol (antifreeze) in their blood prevents their cells from being damaged by freezing and thawing, and high sugar levels lower their freezing point.  Sometimes they emerge to fly during a winter thaw – and visit sap buckets in the sugar bush – before re-entering aestivation when the temperature dips again.  According to Butterflies of the Great Lakes Region, by Douglas and Douglas, if their hibernaculum doesn’t provide them with the right mix of moisture and cold, they may become fatally desiccated in winter.

They are among the hairiest of butterflies https://bugguide.net/node/view/635747/bgimage (Commas are hairy, too https://bugguide.net/node/view/1560697/bgimage), and in spring, the hairs’ insulating value allows them to fly when the temperature sags below 50 degrees.  In addition, by using a combination of basking (their dark bodies absorb heat) and isometric exercise of some flight muscles, a Mourning cloak can raise the temperature in its thorax about 5 degrees (a handy skill, since the thorax houses both wings and legs).

These early butterflies don’t need flowers for sustenance, they eat rotting fruit and feed (head down) at sap drips, especially on high-sugar species like willow, birch, maple, and oak (Larry Weber, in Butterflies of the North Woods says they take advantage of sapsucker holes, too).  Even in summer and fall, they’re seldom seen on flowers (but they like aphid honeydew).

Adults that have overwintered mate in the early days of spring.  Males display for females, often in a defended territory along a sunny path or woods edge or opening.  Hikers may be confronted by amorous male Mourning Cloaks; when you enter his territory, the male will check you out and see if you have courtship in mind.  If you don’t respond appropriately to his signals, he will depart and wait for more receptive company.  Females lay masses of eggs around the twigs of host plants (willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, hawthorn, and mulberry) https://bugguide.net/node/view/617675/bgimage.  For the Mourning Cloaks who survived the winter, the show is over by the start of summer.

The eggs hatch (the first caterpillars out may reduce competition by eating their unhatched siblings – “siblicide”).  The surviving caterpillars live and feed gregariously on fresh leaves https://bugguide.net/node/view/743419/bgimage – initially within a web.  Like Monarch caterpillars, they often take a hike away from their natal plant before forming a chrysalis https://bugguide.net/node/view/325177.

Mourning Cloaks are preyed on by the usual suspects.  The eggs are eaten by beetles, bugs, ants, and mites.  Adults are hunted by aerial predators like birds and dragonflies and, because they often perch on the ground, by some mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.  The caterpillar mass defends itself behaviorally by thrashing around noisily at the sight of predators (their chrysalis does that, too), but a variety of wasp and fly parasitoids lay their eggs on them just the same.  The caterpillars have an additional defense – don’t touch these pretty larvae, they wear “urticating (but not venomous) spines.”

Adults are protected by the bark-like color of their folded wings, and as they launch themselves into their flap-and-glide flight, Mourning cloaks may produce an audible “click” that startles predators.  When it’s surprised, a Mourning Cloak may play dead and fall into the leaf litter, where it is well camouflaged.

There are tantalizing suggestions that at least some of the North American population of Mourning Cloaks may migrate (at least one way).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Seeking Spring Homeschool Program Education Volunteers

Riveredge has seen unprecedented enrollment in our Homeschool Programs (which we’re so pleased about!). This means that we need more helpful volunteers than we’ve ever needed in previous years. If you’re involved in education, or have been an educator, or have a passion for the outdoors and learning, we need your help!

Main Homeschool Volunteer Responsibilities

  • Helping to prepare and set-up the day’s equipment.
  • Helping to check the students in and helping with “ice-breakers” or crafts.
  • Watching the students before, after, and during the Homeschool Ed-Ventures program to
    foster safety, kindness, and respect.
  • Working with small groups of students during activities.
  • Assisting students who may need more one-on-one attention.
  • Having fun!

Current Schedule of Volunteers Needed

Our current volunteer needs are for the following groups. Priorities would be for younger-aged groups.

Monday: Dragonflies group (4K-K) with Kacey – two volunteers needed

Monday: Monarchs group (1st-2nd) with Molli – one volunteer needed

Monday: Sturgeon group (5th-7th) with Nikki  – one volunteer preferred

What Homeschool Volunteers Need to Know

For this 9-12 program, volunteers are asked to arrive 15 minutes early and stay 15 minutes after but this is flexible if you need to hurry elsewhere.

The only requirement is a completed background form, submitted prior to your first volunteer date. As long as everything is clear, you will be able to help in the classes.

For the day, all you would need to bring is a water bottle, snack (optional), a mask, and weather-appropriate clothing. Volunteers will need to be ready to be outside for the majority of the program unless there is inclement weather.

As volunteers will be interacting directly with children, completing this background form is required.

We hope you will find as much enjoyment out of the program as the kids by helping to support Riveredge and our wonderful homeschooling community!

Contact ktait@riveredge.us with questions or to forward your completed background form.

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News X

Howdy, BugFans,


While we’ve been quietly going about our business during this way-too-long pandemic (you know things are bad when you fantasize about going to a board meeting in person), the bugs have been perking along, too.  Here’s what they’ve been up to.


LIFE IN THE WATER IN THE WINTER http://www.agatemag.com/2021/03/where-wonders-never-freeze/.  For those BugFans who aren’t from God’s Country, the (incredibly beautiful) Driftless Area is a region of deep valleys and high ridges on either side of the Mississippi River around the juncture of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  During the peak of the Wisconsin Glaciation, the Laurentide Ice Sheet extended well into Illinois, but it missed the Driftless Area.


MURDER HORNETS 2021 – the obligatory murder hornet story. https://www.kuow.org/stories/key-weapons-in-the-fight-against-asian-murder-hornets-orange-juice-and-rice-wine

On the face of it, a really NICE PICTURE STORY ABOUT THE HUNTING BEHAVIOR OF A FISHING SPIDER https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2021/02/09/readers-wildlife-photos-1220/.  But then there’s the video….

[Nota Bene:  One of the BugLady’s pet peeves is the subliminal indoctrination that is communicated by the narrator’s tone or by the background music in videos showing predators.  This one has it all, except for prey in the form of a cute, bright-eyed bunny or mouse (harder to sympathize with a minnow)]

Remember – HONEYBEES ARE FOREIGN BEES that were imported in the 1600s to pollinate foreign crops.  Turns out that there were already plenty of native pollinators, and both the native and the honeybees are really important.  Turns out, both are also in trouble.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/thousands-wild-bee-species-havent-been-seen-1990-180976901/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210202-daily-responsive&spMailingID=44375570&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1940179039&spReportId=MTk0MDE3OTAzOQS2


IN WHICH SPIDERS DO PHYSICS:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/small-spiders-big-appetites-use-pulley-system-catch-large-prey-180976939/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210205-daily-responsive&spMailingID=44397663&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1940462241&spReportId=MTk0MDQ2MjI0MQS2


HOW CAN YOU “SEE” WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE?  Ask these caterpillars: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/these-caterpillars-can-detect-color-using-their-skin-180972996/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190827-daily-responsive&spMailingID=40517582&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1582561816&spReportId=MTU4MjU2MTgxNgS2

HOW BUTTERFLIES FLY (a little more Physics) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-reveals-secrets-butterfly-flight-180976808/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210122-daily-responsive&spMailingID=44313349&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1921850282&spReportId=MTkyMTg1MDI4MgS2

PEACOCK SPIDERS are a genus (Maratus) of jumping spiders, almost all of which live in Australia.  “Peacock” because they are ridiculously colorful, and the male’s courtship dance involves flashing his abdominal flaps at skeptical females.  Here are some new species of peacock spider – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/meet-seven-newly-discovered-species-peacock-spiders-180974549/, and if you can’t get enough of peacock spiders, see https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/62195/5-flashy-facts-about-peacock-spiders.

PERIODICAL CICADA BROOD X, last seen in 2004, is scheduled to emerge over parts of 15 states in 2021 (they barely make it over the Illinois border into Wisconsin – most of our cicadas are Dog day types https://bugguide.net/node/view/1884528/bgimage, which look pretty different than Periodical cicadas).  Remember – the immature cicada (nymph) lives below-ground, biding its time, feeding on root juices, until the appointed hour, it’s internal calendar ticking off 3 or 7 or more years, depending on species.  Cicada cooking contests abound during big years https://evolutionarythought.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/how-far-weve-come-a-case-study-in-arthropods/

https://www.washingtonian.com/2021/03/08/apparently-brood-x-cicadas-are-edible-and-taste-like-shrimp/?fbclid=IwAR0mOS4BehVwG9tfiXTGUdpdlJYIE878Z7GHKBgDDZnLxEc1zKoDr_TzcjE (but, points subtracted for saying that they’re related to shrimp, which they are, but not closely).  Where can you view Brood X?  Scroll down: https://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/periodical-cicada-brood-x-10-will-emerge-in-15-states-in-2021/.



Finally – TREEHOPPERS ARE JUST SO COOL!! https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/treehoppers-bizarre-wondrous-helmets-use-wing-genes-grow-180973713/


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Milbert’sTortoiseshell Butterfly

Greetings, BugFans,

When the BugLady started this little enterprise back in the summer of 2007, her main criteria for an episode were that she had taken a respectable picture of the bug, and that it had a good story to tell.  She doesn’t have any digital shots of a Milbert’s Tortoise at all, because she hasn’t seen one in at least 20 years (they were last recorded on the Riveredge Nature Center Butterfly count in 1998).  She may have an ancient color slide of one, but when she tries scanning slides, the results are always murky.  Thank goodness (once again) for bugguide.net.

Milbert’s Tortoiseshells (Aglais milberti.) are in the family Nymphalidae, the largest butterfly family.  A distinctive family trait is that their front pair of legs is hairy and much-reduced in size, which has earned them the nicknames “brush-footed” and “four-footed” butterflies (they get around just fine on their second and third pairs of legs).  Although some are very colorful, the upper wing surfaces of many family members are variations in orange and brown, and their underwing surfaces look like dried leaves (allowing them to disappear when they fold their wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/1730918/bgimage).

There are about 6,000 species of Nymphalids worldwide (only 209 in North America); for an introduction to the family, see http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Nymphalidae/ (one of the BugLady’s favorite sources of information).

The spectacular Milbert’s Tortoiseshell https://bugguide.net/node/view/46852/bgimage https://bugguide.net/node/view/476935/bgimage, is also known as the Fire-rim Tortoiseshell (males and females look similar).  It’s pretty unmistakable (but at a very quick glance, might be mistaken in flight for a Red Admiral https://bugguide.net/node/view/1682166/bgimage).

MTs are found across North America, but their range skews north and they’re absent from the Southeast https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Aglais-milberti.  MT numbers are unpredictable from year to year, their distribution is described as “locally common,” and they like moist grasslands, roadsides, woods openings, the edges of wetlands, and higher elevations – anywhere nettle grows.

They are quick and alert.  Male MTs scan for flying females from perches in their territories, often sitting with their wings open.  Females deposit eggs in clusters on the undersides of leaves of nettle plants in the genus Urtica (she may lay as many as 900 but 150 is more likely) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1675002/bgimage.  The young caterpillars stay together, creating communal, silken nests and feeding within them, and older caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/1367818/bgimage fold leaves around themselves.  They may form chrysalises gregariously, and, say Douglas and Douglas in Butterflies of the Great Lakes Region, and “when the butterflies emerge, their communal meconium stains surrounding areas red.”

There are at least two generations a year, maybe three.  Some of the final brood will overwinter as chrysalises https://bugguide.net/node/view/1459379/bgimage (“chrysalis” describes both the life stage and the exterior case), to emerge in early spring, but some fall butterflies will overwinter as adults in sheltered spots, often with a group of their confreres, flying on warm winter days and emerging, battered, even earlier in spring to heed the reproductive imperative.

The excellent Butterflies of Massachusetts website tells us that MTs are probably a species whose numbers increased as the European settlers cut the forests and established agricultural fields and pastures https://www.butterfliesofmassachusetts.net/milberts-tortoiseshell.htm They were given a boost, too, because the Europeans arrived with the common or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), a food/medicine/fiber plant that loves disturbed soils and that quickly made itself at home in the New World, outcompeting the native nettle.  In 1899 Scudder described roadside nettles in Massachusetts as being black with MT caterpillars https://www.buglifecycle.com/?p=278.  Climate change could cause MTs to retreat to the more northern parts of their range.

Depending on the time of year, adults feed on sap drips, animal droppings, fermenting fruit or flower nectar.

MTs are “obligate dorsal baskers.”  Some insects can heat up their thorax by quivering their flight muscles in preparation for flight, but on cooler days, MTs have to warm their thorax by basking with open wings in order activate their wing muscles.

The MT is the only North American species in its much-fought-over genus (depending on the sources you look at, you can find them in three genera), but two non-native genus members have also been reported.  There are sporadic records along the East Coast of the very similar European Small Tortoiseshell https://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=urticae, which ranges across Eurasia (there’s a great anecdote of a Small Tortoiseshell in Nova Scotia flying out of a box that had recently arrived from England).  The Peacock butterfly, a western European butterfly, arrived in Montreal in 1997 and is establishing a small population there https://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=io.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Somethinga Little Different X – Pileated Woodpeckers

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady has been hearing Pileated Woodpeckers recently – a few vocalizations here and there, and a bunch of territorial drumming.  Some owls have a very early courtship – Great-horned Owls are already incubating – and some hawks start early, too, building the pair bond with breathtaking aerial maneuvers.  But the BugLady is always surprised when Pileateds, the largest of our woodpeckers, begin announcing their intentions in mid-February.

This essay was originally written for the BogHaunter, the newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog.  The Bog is a 2300 acre wetland in Ozaukee County in Southeastern Wisconsin.  Actually, it’s a wetland within a wetland within a wetland within….  Conifer and hardwood swamps surrounding a cattail marsh surrounding both an eyed, acid, floating-mat bog and a large, central, alkaline fen, the southernmost string/patterned bog (strangmoor) in North America, with alternating strings and flarks (not a typo, despite what Spellcheck says).  The Bog is the BugLady’s church and her shrink.  Adjacent to the Bog is the Cedarburg Beechwoods State Natural Area.

The clamor of Cranes and Geese may define the Bog’s wetlands, but the Pileated Woodpecker speaks for its uplands.  Similar to a Flicker’s call, its big, whooping sounds have more depth and resonance https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pileated_Woodpecker/sounds.  It also communicates by drumming rapidly on a hollow tree with its bill, a sound that can be heard at some distance.  Both the males and females drum.

Seeing or hearing this Crow-sized woodpecker with its black and white, 30 inch wingspan, is often a matter of luck.  Found throughout much of the United States, in dry uplands and wet swamplands, it is a secretive bird of mature woodlots.  Signs of its woodworking efforts are seen more frequently than is the bird itself.

Its scientific name, Drycopus pileatus, defines it well.  The Greek “Drycopus” means “tree cleaver,” and the Latin “pileatus” means “capped” and refers to the bird’s red crest.  The pronunciation of its common name causes confusion for birders – some say “pie’-lee-a-ted” and others “pill’-ee-a ted” (we Midwesterners tend to use the latter), and both are OK.  Like its slightly larger southern relative the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, with whom it shares/shared the southern swamps, the Pileated was sometimes called the “Good God” or “Lord God” bird.

Pileated Woodpeckers are not migratory, and although they are somewhat more relaxed about it in winter, they are territorial year-round.  A serious dispute involves vocalizations and chasing and may escalate to striking at a rival with wings and bill.

The male courts by perched and aerial displays of his striking plumage patterns.  Pairs are monogamous, but the birds will find another partner if one dies.

For its nest, it needs mature trees.  The round hole it excavates for its eggs faces east or south and is three to four inches across, about 45 feet off the ground, in a trunk that is at least 15 to 20 inches in diameter.  The male does much of the nest excavation, digging down a foot or more into the trunk and clearing the accumulating wood chips by tossing them out of the entrance hole.  Once finished, the female lays four eggs, which are cushioned only by wood chips.  Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young.  Because these are big birds, and two adults (plus young) would more than fill a nest hole, they also make separate roosting holes.

Other birds may try to usurp their nests in summer, and old nest holes provide housing for wood ducks, screech owls and a variety of cavity-nesting mammals, but Pileateds themselves rarely use a nest hole more than once.  They will also use man-made nest boxes.

In search of food they carve a deep rectangle, sometimes a foot long and several inches deep, into dead or dying tree trunks, giving new meaning to the phrase “let the chips fall where they may.” Carpenter ants are the main item on their menu; they pinpoint accurately the location of an ant nest, excavate a fresh crevice in the wood, extend a long tongue, and lick up the ants.  Sources say that songbirds like wrens and flycatchers often visit feeding holes to take advantage of insects uncovered by the woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpeckers also eat beetle grubs and a variety of other small insects and some nuts and fruits (even poison ivy berries).  The BugLady has seen pictures of Pileated Woodpeckers at suet feeders (but not at hers), and as with all woodpecker species, if they’re checking out the siding of your house, you may have an ant problem.  They often feed on or near the ground, where they’re vulnerable to predation by mammals, including house cats.  Weasels, rat snakes, squirrels and grey foxes (our tree-climbing fox) are nest predators, and they are preyed on in the air by hawks, owls, and eagles!

Both hunting and logging took their toll on Pileated Woodpeckers, and their numbers plummeted in the 18th and 19th centuries.  In the 1800’s they were shot as trophies and for food, although John James Audubon and others had reported that they tasted like the worms and ants they eat and were “extremely unpalatable.”  The harvesting and fragmentation of mature forests not only removed the large dead trees that served as nest sites, it also broke up vast stands of trees into units too small to support a pair of woodpeckers.

But the birds adapted to life in smaller trees (even utility poles!), and both woodlands and woodpeckers are making a comeback.  Most importantly, they have become more tolerant of human neighbors.  Fifty years ago, Ozaukee County had a single breeding pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, recorded annually in the Cedarburg Beechwoods State Natural Area.  Although they are more common in the north, they are now seen all over the state, and they continue to move into southern Wisconsin.

[The BugLady took these shots through her patio door at her old house.  The same patio door she intended to wash each season so that she could take pictures through it……  See a nice slide show at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pileated_Woodpecker/id.]

Fun facts about Pileated Woodpeckers:

  • Thank you, Linnaeus.  Before Linnaeus standardized classification of living things in the mid-1700’s, the Pileated Woodpecker was known as the larger red-crested Wood-pecker,” Picus niger maximus capite rubro.
  • In less than a second, they can drum from 11 to 30 times!
  • Despite its impressive 30” wingspan, it weighs only a little more than a half-pound.
  • According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Woody the Woodpecker was inspired by cartoonist Walter Lantz’s encounter with a particularly persistent Acorn Woodpecker https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Acorn_Woodpecker/overview, not a Pileated.  As Lantz developed Woody, he used a little poetic license and exaggerated the crest, and Woody ended up looking more like a hybrid.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

How to tell if your tree is a Maple

Riveredge School students using photographs to practice tree identification at Riveredge Nature Center.

Many types of trees can be tapped for sap, but only Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) are renowned for having the highest sugar content. Although 2% sugar doesn’t seem like much, tapping from a sugar maple saves you a little bit of work and is a great starter tree before experimenting with other syrup varieties.

Tasting Sugar Maple sap at Riveredge Nature Center.

But how do you know if you have a Sugar Maple on your property?

Even in winter, there are plenty of signs to look for:

A snapshot of Mr. Ritz using the Riveredge Maple App. Click for a larger view of the leaves.

Bark: Medium grayish in color that will darken as they age. Bark is separated into tight vertical plates or scales.

Branching: All maples have opposite branching, which means they grow out in pairs that mirror each other. Other trees (dogwood, ash) have this branching type too, so look for additional clues!

Buds: Just like the branches, new buds come out opposite of one another too. They are sharp, slender and brown.

Signs from last year:

Leaves – Resemble the shape of a hand with five main lobes that spread from a central point. Leaf edges are smooth and tips almost look like they’re “dripping.” Leaves turn various shades of burnt orange, yellow, and red in autumn.

Fruit – Paired seeds called samaras (or helicopters) spin down in late summer and autumn.

Sweet goodness dripping from a Sugar Maple at Riveredge Nature Center.

Fun Maple Facts

Maple trees existed when dinosaurs roamed the Earth – 100 million years ago.

In optimum conditions maples can survive for 300 years.

There are 128 varieties of maples. Nearly half of all maple species have an uncertain future due to habitat loss.

Maples sound great: they’re used in a variety of string and woodwind instruments.

Maples are a vital early spring pollen resource for bees.

When you rake those Maple Samaras (the helicopters) don’t just throw them away! They’re packed with protein and carbohydrates – roast them, saute them, boil them – enjoy! Trees other than maples can be tapped such as Black Walnut, Yellow Birch, Paper Birch, Silver Maple, Red Maple, Box Elder, Black Maple, Norway Maple (non-native; not recommended for planting). However, not every tree is safe to tap. Confirm definitively that your tree is safe to tap before ingesting any sap or syrup.

If you don’t have a Maple tree or other tap-able option – volunteer to collect sap with us at Riveredge!

This piece was written by Kacey Tait, the Riveredge Inquiry-Based Curriculum and Instruction Manager.

Bug o’the Week – Straight-toothed sallow moth

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady found this velvety, deeply maroon caterpillar at the Land Trust’s CESA site on a fine June day.  It’s the larva of a Straight-toothed sallow moth (Eupsilia vinulenta) (probably) (full disclosure – the experts caution us that the only way to positively ID an Eupsilia caterpillar is by rearing it to an adult).

Sallows are a group of Owlet moths (family Noctuidae) that are pretty hardy – depending on the latitude, moths may be active all winter, or overwintering adults may emerge from hibernation, fly around, and visit maple sugaring operations on balmy winter days when the temperature climbs above freezing (For a scenic side trip, see “Insects attracted to Maple Sap: Observations from Prince Edward Island, Canada” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088023/).  One source reported seeing the moths searching for warmer shelters on sub-freezing nights, shelters they locate using their antennae.

In Caterpillars of Eastern North America, David Wagner notes that sallows readily come to sugar baits (Eupsilia species “gather by the hundreds at beer or sugar or other baits”).  He recommends to us Holland’s description of baiting moths, and the BugLady is grateful to the Alberta Lepidopterists Guild for posting it http://www.albertalepguild.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Moth_Sugaring.pdf.  They just don’t write science like that anymore.

The Moth Book by W.J. Holland was published in 1904, and with 48 (XLVIII) plates crammed with images, it was for decades the moth Bible (the down side was that moths are pictured like the pinned specimens that they are, with their wings spread, rather than perched naturally).  By 1926, it had joined five other books in a set called The Nature Library, and the set that the BugLady grew up with her nose in probably belonged to her Mom.

Kirk Mona, in his Twin Cities Naturalist blog found an alternate name for the Straight-toothed sallow – he says “The name the Satellite comes from the little spots that seem to orbit like satellites around the larger spot on the fore wings. What a cool name! It is much cooler than “Straight-toothed Sallow.” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1000248/bgimage.

Adults are variable in color, from pale https://bugguide.net/node/view/1051398/bgimage to brown, to rust https://bugguide.net/node/view/1008427/bgimage.  They mate in late winter and early spring; here are the eggs – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1220586/bgimage.  Adults nectar on early tree flowers like red maple.

Caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/38981/bgimage are somewhat generalist feeders, found on the leaves of an assortment of shrubs and trees like box elder, oak, cherry and maple.  Wagner says that younger larvae are “new-leaf specialists that fashion crude leaf shelters in young leaves,” and they may use the abandoned shelters made by other caterpillars.  According to Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America, older caterpillars are found on the in leaf litter on the ground and may feed on low-growing plants or on plant material (like old flowers and catkins) that’s fallen off of trees.

On another front, Monarch butterflies are starting to reach our southern borders.  Here’s info about the status of Monarch populations in 2021: https://www.npr.org/2021/02/26/971650046/climate-change-deforestation-threaten-monarch-butterfly-migration?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20210226&utm_term=5204798&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=2548916&orgid=675.  And here’s an animated 2021 Monarch migration map: https://maps.journeynorth.org/map/?map=monarch-adult-spring&year=2021

Go outside – look for moths (and listen for owls, too)!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Sticky Business: The Future Footing of Maples in Wisconsin

A lovely late afternoon in the Riveredge Sugarbush. The Sugarbush House where we cook sap down into syrup can be seen in the distance.

Botanist John Curtis, famous for having written The Vegetation of Wisconsin, referred to Maple trees as “nutrient pumpers,” enriching the soils in which they root. In the Riveredge Sugarbush, it’s common to find a maple seedling every two inches. Maples are so nutrient baring that an entire assemblage of specific animals, known as a guild, from tiny insects all the way to Black Bears, is directly dependent on maple trees.

Forests: A Continual State of Flux

We tend to think of trees as defining a forest, and they’re important, certainly charismatic, but they’re also one facet of an ecosystem. Factors such as soil type, acidity, moisture, and sunlight dictate which trees will be suitable for a given area and not the other way around.

A Pileated Woodpecker at Riveredge Nature Center.

At Riveredge, we observe and foster a diversity of trees, much of which can be traced to a cut in the 1920’s, and which allowed oaks, hickories, and other species to grow up within the Sugar Maples. Forests with greater diversity tend to be stronger against threats such as diseases or invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer. In nature, greater native diversity is generally regarded as beneficial to everyone.

Just as an excavated and only once used Woodpecker cavity nest will continue to be used by other animals, the root channels of an aging tree system will offer younger tree roots opportunities to colonize and expand healthily. We can think of this as a floristic inheritance from aunts and uncles.

Some of the history of our region on display inside of the Riveredge Visitor’s Center.

Hands-on Research and Conservation

For these reasons (and others), clearcutting a forest and replanting other trees can result in less than stellar results and forest health, which sustainable forestry endeavors to take into consideration. Though heralded only recently, this isn’t particularly new to the Americas. The 230,000-acre Menominee Forest in northern Wisconsin has been logged sustainably and profitably since the mid-19th century and is one of the healthiest forests on this continent.

Despite our cinematic imaginations, individual trees are not able to stand up on their roots and venture off. Forests, however, can gradually migrate their location and distribution over years and decades and centuries. This can be both the result of the given lifespan of a type of forest’s existence in an area, and can be the result of environmental factors such as climate change.

Research observes that Sugar Maple forests are gradually migrating north, following cooler temperatures as our region trends gradually warmer due to climate change. Riveredge is located at the southern distribution of Sugar Maple habitat.

In some locations at Riveredge, forest health means thinning Sugar Maple populations so that Oaks can flourish.

At Riveredge, we endeavor to undertake our land management strategy with the scope of a 100+ year vision. How can we best invite this land and the species living within it to flourish a century from now? In considering climate change, for example, oak trees are more drought tolerant than maples and we will look to plant more oaks across the landscape. Oaks also support a guild of species in a manner similar to maples.

None of us knows what the future holds, and at Riveredge we’re pleased to continue celebrating our 5th season of the year. In the future, we may look to incorporate more warmth-tolerant species as climate change develops, such as the Black Maple, also known as the Savanna Sugar Maple or Southern Sugar Maple. Our flavor may evolve with the times, but Riveredge will remain just as sweet.

Welcome Courtney Rogaczewski, the New Riveredge Director of Development

Riveredge Nature Center is pleased to welcome our new Director of Development, Courtney Rogaczewski. Courtney started with Riveredge on February 1st.

Courtney began her career in public relations/marketing with Kohl’s Department Stores. She then shifted to corporate philanthropy at Kohl’s Corporate where she oversaw the Kohl’s Cares program. From there, she wanted to be closer to the action and jumped into the nonprofit sector. Courtney then worked in development for a research foundation, then moved into the human services sector by supporting people with disabilities and working in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Her eye was always on marrying her passion for the outdoors with her working life, and we’re fortunate to have her here to blend those interests.

Courtney lives in Slinger with her husband and three sons. She enjoys continuing her 34-year hockey career, stokes her inner Star Wars fangirl, cycles competitively and enjoys hammocking with a book in her lap (read: professional napper). Their family spends all their time outside building trails, playing hockey on the lake, spending nights outside around the fire pit and preserving the woods and lake around their home. Twice annually, they load up the truck and knock two National Parks off their life list.

Welcome Courtney! Courtney can be reached at crogaczewski@riveredge.us.

We should also acknowledge that we say “Ta-ta for now” and maintain an excellent relationship with Natalie Dorrler, the outgoing Riveredge Director of Development. Natalie had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Peninsula State Park in Door County and we wish her the best – we’re all hoping to visit soon!